I had a very good experience recently when I phoned a Government department to sort out a claim: the (pleasantly reassuring) computer voice asked me to say in a few words what it was I was calling about, repeated back to me a very accurate summary of my issue, and then took me through a series of questions designed to ensure that I was directed to the appropriate section. When I was passed through to a human voice, I was glad to be speaking to someone who could actually do something about my problem, but grateful too for the technology which had directed me, and had actually made solving my issue much simpler. It had saved me time and made me feel good – a win-win all round.
I did of course want to speak to a person in the end – I needed personal interaction to be able to explain my issue and receive advice. We all respond to other human beings caring and helping us; it was therefore no surprise to read on the website of US Education News that educators in Iowa and Vermont have worked out that “students who develop meaningful relationships with teachers are more likely to succeed.”
This is not of course the only thing that matters – the same educators stress that “students need to feel like what they are learning is relevant to them in order to stay engaged.” This is where technology comes in. If it can ease communication and help focus on solutions, as in my recent experience, and if it can engage, interest and respond to human needs, then it can make a huge difference in education.
Technology has come on in leaps and bounds since the invention of the first Turing machines of the 20th century, and it has reached a point now where it can significantly enhance learning and add new dimensions to this learning, rather than simply make mechanical tasks more automated. We are at a stage now where we can think incredibly ambitiously about what technology might do for us in education, and can have a reasonable chance that this is already under development, or is at least within the realms of practical possibility.
Spend a few moments today thinking those incredibly ambitious thoughts.